BBC Video // 2011 // 231 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 17th, 2011
What if your worst enemy was your own conscience?
"If I could, I'd give you a medal."
After the harrowing events of the previous season, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba, The Wire) finds himself dealing with a variety of complicated new cases. A masked killer is threatening to bring London to its knees with a series of horrifying murders. A role play-inspired young man is slaughtering random, unsuspecting citizens for the sake of racking up "points" in a violent real-life competition. A desperate mother needs Luther's help in freeing her daughter from the grip of a savage, merciless criminal organization. There's no doubt that a great deal of blood is going to be spilt. The only question is whether Luther can manage to achieve some measure of damage control.
Spoiler warning: Major plot developments from the first season of Luther will be discussed during this review. If you haven't seen that season, proceed at your own risk.
The initial premise of Luther was almost amusingly conventional: a detective is great at his job, but struggles with quite a few issues in his personal life? And he has a different case to solve every week? We've only seen that show a few thousand times at this point. However, the first season of Luther quickly established a number of elements that permitted it to stand out as its own beast. First and foremost was the relationship between Luther and devilish killer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson, The Prisoner), which offered an entertaining variation on the Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling dynamic. Despite their obvious differences of opinion on the law and, y'know, whether it's cool to just kill people, the fact that the two understand each other is often enough to outweigh all of that. It's an unlikely relationship which is nearly impossible to believe at times, but Elba and Wilson make it work.
The second big thing -- something which accentuated to an even greater degree in Luther 2 -- is the fact that this show is flat-out crazy. Luther is fearless when it comes to its willingness to look ridiculous, and many subplots on the show have a tendency to leap from zero to one hundred at any given moment. There's a scene in this season in which Luther walks into a room, is grabbed by a thug and has his hand nailed to a table. His hand gets nailed to a table. This isn't the finale of an episode or even its climactic moment, it's just something that happens. In fact, after Luther's hand is nailed to the table, the man simply carries on a conversation as if nothing has happened. That's the way Luther works. His showdowns with villains don't involve two guys pointing guns at each other; they involve Luther covering himself in gasoline, handing the bad guy (decked out in explosives, I might add) a lighter and playing a dice game for his life. This is the kind of show which has absolutely no qualms about putting a bus filled with doe-eyed school children in severe danger for the sake of raising the emotional stakes.
Elba sells all of this wildness with steely conviction and considerable charisma; beautifully capturing the unstable blend of heartbreak and rage swirling beneath the surface of slick professionalism. Zoe's death seems to have instilled in him a new level of fearlessness, and the title character storms through these mysteries with such reckless abandon that we fear he might just get himself killed at any moment (this is British television, after all). His scenes with Wilson remain a highlight (and even more Hannibal n' Clarice than ever, considering that Alice begins this season behind bars), but her strangely stabilizing presence goes AWOL for the back half of this ultra-lean, gritty season (a mere four episodes, as opposed to the six offered in season one), leaving Luther careening out of control. There are certainly moments in which the show seems flat-out silly, but the sheer "did they really just do that?" factor adds a level of entertainment which more than compensates for the missteps. The quality of the performances ensures that you care about the characters, and the show's eager willingness to have its assorted players shot, stabbed or blown up leaves your nerves frazzled as you wait for Luther's violent chess games to play out.
One major improvement between this season and the last: the done-in-one plots have been substituted with more protracted cases, giving Luther 2 the feeling of being a proper miniseries rather than just a collection of episodes. The first two episodes focus on the masked killer, the latter two episodes focus on the role playing killer, and Luther's attempts to aid a troubled young woman (along with a handful of other, smaller subplots) take the entire season to resolve. As a result, the show feels bigger, more cinematic and the inevitable showdowns manage to achieve a greater weight than before.
Luther arrives on DVD sporting a handsome transfer. The level of detail is impressive, blacks are deep and inky and flesh tones are warm and natural. The four episodes are spread across two discs, and the transfer seems to benefit from this fact (many TV show discs are stuffed to maximum capacity with content). Audio is also exceptional, with the musical score playing an even more prominent role in this season (there's some Howard Shore-inspired material in the first two episodes which is positively thunderous). Audio is clean and clear, and the sound design is solid enough. No extras are included.
Both seasons of Luther have concluded with the same line of dialogue: "So now what?" As was the case at the conclusion of the first season, I have no idea where this show is going next. However, I'm really looking forward to finding out. This is immensely entertaining television.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 231 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated